Harbor Security Melds Sensors, Databases

February 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Coast Guard boat patrols Boston harbor. A port security system installed there for the Democratic National Convention in 2004 is a foundation for a broader harbor security system that connects databases and various sensors for real-time automatic alerts.
Fused data provides a clearer picture of potential seaborne threats.

A system that combines U.S. Navy and Coast Guard requirements for port security may be the key to securing harbors against maritime threats. Built largely with off-the-shelf technologies, the system can allow officials to monitor ship traffic by combining database knowledge with real-time sensor input.

The Harbor and Coastal Security (HCS) system provides a situational awareness picture of a harbor’s waterway. It supports maritime domain awareness by collecting data from various sensors and fusing it for display in a command center. These sensors can include optical and radar systems, and their data are correlated into the HCS situational awareness picture. The system can correlate data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that sends signals from vessels bearing its transponders. It includes vessel and facility database integration.

The system also permits targeting a ship for surveillance. A port camera can be slewed to view a particular vessel, and it automatically will follow that ship until reassigned. Both optical and infrared cameras can be incorporated into an HCS configuration.

A user can view a display featuring ship icons and their tracks. By clicking on a vessel track, the user can access information from various databases and determine whether any threat is present. The threat assessment tool is rule-based and has default settings. The threshold of that threat determination can be decided in advance by the customer, explains Leo Black. He is the program manager for Coast Guard and homeland security programs at Northrop Grumman, which makes the HCS.

The HCS situation display shows which sensors are supplying the data to generate a track. This enables a user to know precisely from where track data came. The user knows the reliability of each input—radar tracks are real-time and unaffected by human influence, for example, whereas AIS information can be reconfigured by individuals on a ship.

When a vessel’s icon is displayed, half of that icon displays the threat level for the ship, while the other half shows the threat determined for the voyage. A vessel with a seemingly innocuous journey may show a red threat symbol because that ship hails from a hostile nation or is crewed by personnel of dubious background. Conversely, a ship from a friendly nation with an excellent record nonetheless may display a red threat symbol because the database records the ship as having stopped in a port known for a terrorist presence.

The system has automatic alert and alarm capabilities for a range of criteria. These are both situational and database-oriented, and they can be sent for any combination of ship track, speed, location, cargo, crew and history. Alarms can focus on ship track attributes, stationary zones, anchorages, boundary crossings, closing vessels, transits, routes, closest points of approach, status changes and schedule changes, for example.

Not only can sensor input be recorded for replay, the same capability exists for the complete HCS presentation. Officials can use the HCS to review a situation and analyze it for its development and responses.

The HCS can accept many different types of charts with their varying formats. It also can incorporate Blue Force Tracking into its menu, Black adds. This permits smoother response actions based on the system’s information.

Tracking vessels is only part of the system’s capability. Users can establish security zones around different areas of their ports so that vessels entering those zones would trigger automatic alarms.

An HCS system can be built from the ground up or incorporated into an existing port sensor infrastructure. Web clients permit first responders to access the HCS via the Web.

Black emphasizes that the system can be scaled considerably. It can be designed to cover only one small segment of a port, or it can cover an entire nation’s worth of coastal waterways and harbors.

HCS technology is derived from the Coast Guard’s Hawkeye system, which has been set up in several ports. Its genesis in turn was the need for a harbor security system in Hampton Roads/Norfolk, Virginia, home of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. The Navy facility was outfitted with a joint harbor operations center, or JHOC. The JHOC, which was a Navy/Coast Guard system, served as a sector command center, with sensors that provided port security for the Navy. It builds on the Coast Guard’s vessel traffic service system, which was designed to be interoperable with U.S. Defense Department systems.

Hawkeye was the result of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Science and Technology prototype development effort with the Coast Guard. It ties radars, cameras, AIS and other sensors to a central command center. It built on the JHOC, which effectively is a Hawkeye for the Navy.

Following the success of the Norfolk setup, Northrop Grumman was tasked with establishing similar port security systems in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City, which were hosting respectively the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2004. As with Norfolk, Boston lacked any existing security system, although New York did have a vessel tracking system. Only about half a dozen U.S. ports have a vessel tracking system, Black allows.

The Boston and New York Hawkeyes improved on the Norfolk version with the addition of Blue Force Tracking technology. To monitor the two ports, Northrop Grumman established 18 remote camera and radar sites along with 110 Blue Force Tracking transponders in Coast Guard and interagency vessels.

In addition to those three ports, the Coast Guard established Hawkeye systems in both Miami and Port Everglades, Florida, and in Charleston, South Carolina, where it is part of Project SeaHawk. Known as the Charlestown Harbor Operations Center, or C-HOC—a homophone of SeaHawk—this system is an intermodal security system encompassing the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security along with state and local authorities.

Despite similar roots, a key difference between the HCS and Hawkeye is that the Coast Guard system is Unix-based, while the HCS is PC-based. Black explains that the PC basis opens up a world of potential off-the-shelf products that could be incorporated into the system for the customer. “Once you go PC-based, you could almost put the system in with several laptops,” Black says.

“The primary advantage is the availability of commercial off-the-shelf products that we can tie into this and integrate—which you don’t have with Unix,” he declares. The threat assessment capability, for example, is an off-the-shelf product from another company.

Other differences from Hawkeye enhance the system’s flexibility. Black relates that the HCS can accept several different radar processors that are PC-based. Company researchers are striving to enable it to accommodate different cameras, and other enhancements are in the works. Designers are developing the capability to incorporate acoustic sensors into the situational awareness element. This would permit offshore- and harbor-bottom acoustic sensors to provide input into the automatic alarm system. The acoustic data would be correlated with radar tracks, Black explains.

Engineers also are striving to enable HCS cameras to detect and track ships entering a harbor area. With this capability, a camera would serve the same function as a radar system. And, as different types of sensors can serve more roles, correlated data can alert users to a potential security risk. For example, if a database lists a vessel as having a different size than that which HCS sensors are detecting, then an automatic alarm can be triggered to alert users to this discrepancy—and a possible threat to the harbor.

Future iterations may include scene awareness, which would play a major role in automated anomaly detection. More varied sensors and data such as from airborne and satellite sources may be added. An HCS system could track a vessel from the moment it leaves a foreign port on its way to the protected harbor. And, when databases can amass container information accurately, that too could be incorporated into HCS threat assessment.

An HCS version already has been installed in Australia. Known as the Australian Maritime Information System, or AMIS, this version provides capabilities that go beyond individual port security. Black reports that some U.S. Coast Guard personnel have seen AMIS, and Northrop Grumman is hoping to be able to move some AMIS features into Hawkeye.

AMIS users have a database reach-back ability that is far greater than found in Hawkeye. Australia already has databases built from existing sensors, so the system is configured to incorporate that legacy sensor input. The system also features a service-oriented architecture and multilevel security.

The biggest difference between AMIS and Hawkeye is that plans call for AMIS to be developed into a countrywide system. With the existing databases, the information collected at each port will be consolidated to provide Australian authorities with a countrywide picture of harbor security. AMIS may incorporate Blue Force Tracking in the future.

The next iteration of the HCS will be in Taiwan. Black explains that his company is a subcontractor to an ongoing harbor security effort. This system will incorporate Link airborne data, and it also may include Blue Force Tracking, he adds. Other international installations may be in the offing.

Web Resource
Northrop Grumman Harbor Control Services: www.ngms.eu.com/Products/hcs.htm


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